A power outage Monday morning left much of downtown Roanoke in the dark. But Book No Further, a bookstore at 16 West Marketplace, still managed to get a few sales in.
Those customers didn’t need flashlights for their purchases because they ordered online — some of the estimated 67.4 million Americans who shopped online on Cyber Monday. While people might still associate online sales with the behemoth Amazon or large corporations with massive e-commerce sites, such as Walmart or Target, small businesses participate as well and will continue to do so over the busy holiday shopping season.
Book No Further owner Doloris Vest said she launched online sales for the bookstore over the summer and is still working on how to incorporate e-commerce into her business model. That part of the business is growing but hasn’t yet surpassed customers coming into the store.
She saw two big reasons for adding an online store. One is the obvious additional sales, while the other is the credibility a website can provide.
“If you don’t have online sales, you don’t look like a contemporary business,” Vest said.
Through her bookseller, Vest has access to a large database of books sold on her website, which shows how many copies are available at the store. The service is designed to be user-friendly for both customers and the business owner.
The vast majority of U.S. small businesses have an online presence in some form, either through social media or a website, according to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Small Business Index. Many small businesses in Roanoke have a Facebook page, which is free and a notably user-friendly way to advertise. But operating a website offering online sales can be burdensome for small-business owners who don’t have the resources of large retailers.
These merchants have to consider how much time and funding to put into their online presence.
Some Roanoke businesses have decided the effort is worth the investment.
Ashley Shaffner, the owner of Urban Gypsy in Roanoke’s Grandin Village, sees her online shop as a way to keep up with national trends that favor digital shoppers. And it has helped her bring in some new sales.
The weather in Roanoke for Small Business Saturday was somewhat uncooperative this year, with heavy rain and near-freezing temperatures keeping a lot of people at home. Shaffner said she saw several Urban Gypsy website sales on Saturday, which might have been from patrons who wanted to shop locally but didn’t want to go out in the nasty weather.
She plans to offer online deals in the weeks before Christmas. She said it isn’t possible to put the store’s entire inventory online because it changes so frequently. So she selects specific items to offer for sale on the website, which she said is particularly popular with out-of-town shoppers who can’t visit the store in person.
For locals, ordering online with free in-store pickup has been a popular option, she said.
Luxury sunglasses shop The Ever Collection is also launching special discounts for its online shoppers over the busy holiday season. It has a location at Valley View Mall, but owner Kristian Michael said a lot of customers buy from out of state and many of his customers are millennials who like shopping online. His business relies on a healthy mix of online and in-store sales.
Nationally, this year’s long shopping weekend saw record numbers of online shoppers.
“Retailers’ investments in technology continued to pay off with consumers seamlessly shopping on all platforms throughout the weekend,” according to a news release from the National Retail Federation on a shopping survey from Prosper Insights & Analytics. “The survey found more than 89 million people shopped both online and in stores, up nearly 40 percent from last year.”
The most popular day to shop online was Cyber Monday, cited by 67.4 million shoppers, followed by Black Friday with 65.2 million shoppers, according to the release. The most popular day for in-store shopping was Black Friday, with more than 67 million shoppers, followed by Small Business Saturday with 47.4 million shoppers. Also, the release said 66 percent of smartphone owners used their mobile devices to make holiday purchases, up from 63 percent last year.